"One cannot live on memories alone" (Non si vive di soli ricordi). That was the theme of this year's Eurochocolate festival. The festival, held yearly in the hilltop city of Perugia, is touted as Italy's biggest chocolate festival. I travel for chocolate, and the memories of this year's CioccolaTo in Turin were just not enough. I had to go, see and sample Eurochocolate for myself.
Big it was. Big name chocolate makers, both Italian and International, were there. Perugina, Lindt, Venchi, Caffarel, Milka, Motta, Novi, Eraclea, Toblerone, even Nestle (who owns Perugina), and many more chocolate makers and bakers had tents filled with chocolate!
The realization of the festivals immensity and popularity hit me when I arrived to find the 7:43am train from Rome to Perugia packed to standing room only. Standing the entire 2 plus hours, I could only imagine the lovely Autumn scenes outside the train window: the Umbrian valley in hues of green, orange and red, the stone churches and their bell towers rising above the hilltop towns.
I was rethinking my decision when the train finally pulled into Perugia's train station. There, we easily found both city buses (3 euros round-trip) and a choco-train (4 euros round trip) available to take us and the masses up the hill to the festival. During the ride, we circled our way up as gold and orange-leafed trees lined our way. Once in a while we caught views of the rolling hills and similarly colored Umbrian valley below us.
Possibly because it was the last Saturday of the 10-day festival, the festival was packed. Not only were there lots of people, but there was lots of chocolate, in many forms, to sample and buy. Five of the main piazzas in Perugia were filled with vendors' tents, and the streets that connected all these piazzas were also flanked with chocolate vendors.
When there are so many varieties of chocolate, one must try as many as possible, no? The thick hot chocolate was my favorite treat of the day. Eraclea served dark, milk and white hot chocolates so thick they easily held up the spoons. They also sold 32 different flavors of hot chocolate mix, which you could take home. I was happy to find gianduja in several forms from the Turin chocolatiers in attendance. Along with the gianduja, I purchased chunks cut from those slabs of chocolate studded with hazelnuts. It doesn't matter if it's dark, milk or gianduja chocolate holding the hazelnuts, I love them all.
Besides the hazelnutty goodness that is Baci from Perugina, I tried their Banana - dark chocolate in the shape of a banana with a banana cream inside. I was surprised that I liked it. Not too strong of a banana taste, it went well with the dark chocolate. And then there were churros and chocolate sauce. I mean, fried dough and chocolate, what's not to love? Many booths were giving samples away and much more generously than at the CioccolaTo Festival. The Novi vendor won my award for most friendly and most generous with the samples.
Chococard - We purchased a chococard for 6 euros and received 14 chocolate tastings with it. Along with the tastings, we were eligible for discounts off purchases at many other booths. The girl who sold us the card told us we could spot which booths had Chococard tastings by their long lines. She was right. In Ciobar's case, I thought I had stumbled upon an Occupy demonstration in Italy. I don't know how I managed to get through the mob without wearing any of my or someone else's hot chocolate, but I did.
Of the tastings/offers (called omaggi in Italian), I had several favorites. The 6 euros was a good value. The hot chocolate was divine, as were our mini Domori chocolates with chocolate liqueur. Other favorites from our sampling included, the mini Toblerone bar, my 200g chocolate frame, and the two chocolate "cones" from Motta. The cones looked like Drumstick bars, but where you would find ice cream in the Drumstick, we found solid chocolate in the Motta cones.
My choco-frame didn't survive the trip back to CA, but it's going to make a delicious hot chocolate!
When on the verge of chocolate overdose, we took a pork break and spent some time being kids again. The guy making balloon hats made more for adults than for children.
Besides the festive atmosphere and all the chocolate love in the air, Perugia has much to admire all on its own; medieval buildings, pretty piazzas, and a hilltop location with breathtaking views -
Fontana Maggiore - This time it wasn't the chocolate version
Although I might not plan a trip to Italy around Eurochocolate, I certainly would go again if I were in Umbria (or Rome) in October. Although I've been known to plan trips for chocolate, it's not necessary as there are many chocolate festivals throughout Italy during the Spring, Fall and Winter months. Here are a few upcoming chocolate festivals happening in November and December, 2011, and some already planned for 2012:
Cioccoshow: La Magie del Cioccolato in Bologna - November 16 to 20, 2011
Showcolate 2011 in Naples - December 8 to 11, 2011
Cioccolentino 2012 in Terni - February 10 to 14, 2012
Fiera del Cioccolato Artigianale in Florence - February 10 to 19, 2012
CioccolaTo 2012 in Turin - March 2 to 11, 2012
Altrociccolato in Gubbio - October 2012 (unconfirmed dates are Oct. 15-17)
Eurochocolate 2012 in Perugia - October 19 to 28, 2012
For a list of even more food and wine festivals in Italy, I update a list and post it weekly in Sunday's Italy on a Plate roundup.